24 February 2009

Labor to fell old growth forests in Victoria

ALP considers tree preservation adverse to people's housing needs

The Victorian State Government appears to be seriously considering the idea that it may not be in the best interests of Victorians to have their housing and development planning being determined by environmental activists and conservationists. The Age, the Victorian outpost of Fairfax Media's plantation of green left enabling sheltered workshops, reports today (lid dip to Tim Blair) that:

LAWS governing the clearing of native vegetation are under review as part of the Brumby Government's response to the bushfire crisis. ... Ideas have included transferring responsibility for managing native vegetation in areas zoned for housing from the Department of Sustainability and Environment to the Department of Planning and Community Development....About 2000 homes were destroyed in the bushfire disaster. "We need to make sure that they treat native vegetation differently in areas approved for building," ...

So maybe I wasn't completely barking up the wrong tree in my post last week where I fulminated about the reckless loss of life caused by bad strategic Government planning in semi-rural Victoria. But I could, as usual, be getting a little ahead of myself. This is politics we're talking about. And this is the Victorian ALP. So the words spoken are unlikely to translate into any substantive actions by the Government, only the customary populist cosmetic bromides for consumption by superficial or dishonest journalists, who seemingly have no capacity or desire to hold anyone with responsibility to account, when they share their master's political allegiance.

Vaclev Klaus -v- Santa Claus Kev

The Great Recession Cage Match

Rudd's tactic:

Give out cash prizes to the grateful punters.
(Hope nobody notices that the cupboard is now bare)

Klaus' game plan:

Treat it like flu: let it go through.
(If you don't cure it, it takes 7 days. If you do, it takes a week)

Quick quiz:

Which of these is good management and which is good politics?

On 19 February 2009 Vaclev Klaus, the President of the Czech Republic (not to be confused with his predecessor, as I have done, Vaclev Havel), addressed the European Parliament (Lid dip to Eric Falkenstein). Here is the text of his speech.

In amongst the many gems in this magnificent speech, which touches on the excessive restrictions on freedom and the absence of true democracy in the European Union, there is this:

. ... the present economic system of the EU is a system of a suppressed market, a system of a permanently strengthening centrally controlled economy. Although history has more than clearly proven that this is a dead end, we find ourselves walking the same path once again. This results in a constant rise in both the extent of government masterminding and constraining of spontaneity of the market processes. In recent months, this trend has been further reinforced by incorrect interpretation of the causes of the present economic and financial crisis, as if it was caused by free market, while in reality it is just the contrary – caused by political manipulation of the market. It is again necessary to point out to the historical experience of our part of Europe and to the lessons we learned from it..

This speech is a wonderful statement of the resilience of the ideas of human freedom from the would be shackles and derision of authorities, whether those authorities are"democratic", "doctrinal", "dictatorial" or "divine".

Compare Klaus' inspiring statement above with the recent miserable global pablums of the desperate one eyed Scottish demagogue running Westminster and Nic, his Parisian action man fashion accessory.

Why do smart, insightful and caring people continue to get sucked into big government's self important self destructive vortex of delusion? Do these political harpies, who are just pieces of flotsam on the tide of economic history, really believe they are in control of their economies and that they are not actually making things worse by imposing their current partisan version of a big government spending non-solution on the governed? All these power junkies apparently know for sure is: if they are not seen to be doing something, anything, then they will be blamed, no matter what happens. For them any action, and the bigger it is seen to be the better, is preferable than taking no action, in order to protect their own political hides. And this is so even if the action taken is counter-productive. Their sycophant enablers in the life style media and from the protected groves of academia, egg these governments on with active encouragement for them to dip still deeper into the bottomless well of other peoples' debt. And what was it that precipitated this downturn again?
What if, as seems likely, spending as little of taxpayers money as possible, is the path to causing the least damage to a nation? A government that stabilizes or reduces its debt going into a downturn, maintains essential infrastructure, encourages private investment and give business incentives to expand seems likley to be optimizing conditions for a turnaraound.

Any leader genuinely interested in prioritising the best outcomes for the people they have a responsibility for, and not just in the maintenance of their own access to power and popularity, can clearly see from history, that large scale taxpayer funded make-work programmes (bicycle paths anyone?) are not solutions at all, they in fact make the problem worse by increasing debt and discouraging personal initiative.

So for we Australians, compare Klaus' approach with our Kev's Santa Claus approach. Mr Rudd radically and precipitously alters the nation's budgetary settings in the space of 6 weeks from boasting about maintaining a surplus, to going into deep deficit. How does he do this? By giving every worker earning less than approx $80 grand p.a. a cheque from Treasury for $800 or so. He also gives grants to councils to build cycle paths (what is it with leftists and bicycles?) and to primary schools to build assembly halls, music studios and changing rooms. That'll sure stimulate domestic demand for a quarter or so Kev and workers, parents and retailers will think you are Santa (Heh Kev, seen the polls?). But what then?

If the recovery doesn't come for another year or so, can you do it all again without bankrupting the nation's treasury? But if you don't the voters might see that your profligate generosity had no lasting effect on the recession or jobs, whilst weakening Treasury's capacity to recover when the inevitable private sector driven economic turn around does arrive.

13 February 2009

The bushfires and the meltdown

Was it a case of missing the forest of fuel, for the love of trees; or
missing the fire of trees for the forest of global warming?

Either way all the spending and commitment of communities and government was worthless because their strategic decisions were wrong.

Out of the despair and grief from the ashes of these horrendous fires there may yet be some forgotten wisdom to be re-learned.

Over-indulgence in feel-good greenish solutions and an excessive tilt towards fashionable natural rather than human shaped landscape in habitats in semi-rural Victoria, has contributed significantly to the appallingly high loss of life and injury from Victoria's February bushfires.

A failure to heed the outcome of numerous previous enquiries after bushfire disasters throughout the 20th century, nearly all of which have recommended hazard and fuel reduction by regular hazard reduction burning in forests and the clearing of vegetation around settlements, has significantly contributed to the scale of this tragedy.

It seems local councils and state government departments have for a decade or so deliberately fostered and encouraged green enclaves as part of the housing development strategy for Melbourne's urban fringe and in semi-rural Victorian countryside. These deliberate strategies have actively discouraged human intervention in natural forests from regular hazard reduction fires and the clearing of vegetation near homes. They also have actively encouraged residents to retain and plant canopy trees around their dwellings. This has been done due to a preponderance of green leaning political decisions at local council and state government levels which have focused on ways that citizens can contribute in their own small way to the war against global warming from the build up of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, by living more sustainable lives, friendly to nature and the natural environment.

This self gratifying process has caused responsible people to lose perspective on real and immediate threats to human life in their communities. People have died as a consequence.

If communities do come to appreciate that they did partially lose sight of the actual threats to themselves from the immediacy of fire by concentrating too much on larger imagined threats from global warming, then the refocusing and re-contextualising of threats that result, can be for the common good.

In Australia we have world class rural fire fighting infrastructure and real commitment from local communities to bush fire fighting. This was not enough. It did not make a sufficient difference to prevent the loss of over 200 lives. It seems that no matter how much is spent and how committed the people are to fire fighting, it will not protect the communities they serve if strategic decisions about management of potential fire intensity from fuel sources are ignored. Good decision making in the interests of communities has to be smart and realistic if the resources committed to protecting communities from danger are to be effective.

There are lessons here in other spheres about perspective and priority setting. The allocation of taxpayer funds to varying fiscal stimulus projects and programmes, ostensibly done to reduce distress in communities from the drying up of credit and the erosion of confidence in making new investments during a recession, is clearly brought into focus by this line of thought.

It doesn't matter how much Government spends on new projects and injecting liquidity into the community if it doesn't change people's actual spending and investment outlook over time. Government has only a very limited ability to create or stimulate domestic demand in an economy. It is the governed not the governors who turn business cycles around. Government spending that does not actually change investment attitudes and business confidence in the governed, can only have short term effects. It is essentially just a waste of taxpayers money unless a turn around occurs before the effects of stimulus wears off. Who honestly thinks that there will be a turn around anywhere any time in the next 12 months, even with the massive pointless injections of taxpayer's money and borrowings by government?

Only spending that is believed in by citizens and has real long term effects has any economic justification. Otherwise its just buying shiny new trucks that cannot put out fires because the flames are too large. The community remains unprotected, but everyone is deeper in debt.

The taxpayer's money and resources spent in projects like bicycle paths and giving low income consumers cash entitlements, is like pouring water into sand. Water that could be otherwise be stored to help when the inferno rages. People are not going to change their spending decisions to take investment risks that build for the future based on a perception of one off injections of liquidity. One off spending by government on such things are seen by citizens straight away for what they are: short term, one-off, stop gaps. Except what happens if they don't straddle the gap to the next up turn in the business cycle? If the stimulus effects fall short of that, then they have had no effect in preventing the onset of a recession, and the recession just contiunes inexorable march through the economy. The community still feels the pain of the downturn as it waits for business confidence to return. This largely happens independently of government spending. We get the recession anyway and the polity is just deeper in debt as it enters it worse phases.

The current massive round of fiscal stimulus spending by governments seems like a spectacularly foolish act of short term desperation. It may make people believe that government is doing something, but it in fact all the government is doing is creating financial repayment obligations for the future, with no benefit beyond the moment in the present.

If the government were serious and truthful about getting us out or the recession it would cut taxes, not give handouts. With tax cuts citizens would have reason to believe that in years to come people will have more to spend on a product or service and therefore expenditure to capture some of that wealth can be justified on a risk/return basis. In net, people need to actually believe that there is a source of personable replicable expenditure in future to take investment risks. Boondoggles and make work projects do not do this. The New Deal was a spectacular failure in getting the US out of the Great Depression. That depression became the Great Depression. It lasted more than a decade in spite of the massive expenditures of the New Deal in the early 1930s. The world recovered only after a world war focused expenditure on things that people actually then believed in . . .

Why do these social democrats in the US, the UK and Australia think their species of fiscal stimulus will serve us any better than the failures of FDR's New Deal expenditure? It is like buying new fire engines and implementing new warning systems that do little if anything to prevent loss of life, because they miss the most important priority: the fuel in the forest. In this case the priority must be on turning around the hearts and minds of those making business investment decisions in the community. Not giving handouts to people with jobs, building bicycle paths and school toilet blocks. Worthy as such projects appear they are not likely to create the meaningful investment confidence necessary to put an economy back on the road to expansion and full employment.

11 February 2009

Britain descends further into totalitarianism

Dutch parliamentarian banned from entering UK for holding political views about Islam that the UK government thinks will threaten its community harmony.

The news out of Britain just keeps getting worse. The Brits just don't seem to get the importance of human freedom anymore. Neither their government nor their media adequately understood quite what was at stake a couple of months ago when the Cabinet Office and the Speaker countenanced the Met's anti-terrorism squad raiding an Opposition immigration spokesman's office in Westminster over leaks of immigration statistics from the Home Office. And this latest outrage confirms that they truly have almost completely lost any sense of the value of freedom for their citizens.

The British Secretary of State for the Home Department (you'd think these people spoke English as a second language the way they label their government offices), via the British Embassy in the Netherlands, has advised Geert Wilders, a member of the Dutch legislature who was invited by a member of the House of Lords to give a presentation to the members of that House, that he will be "refused admission to the UK under regulation 19" of Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006.

The justification for this government intervention to prevent the free passage of an EU citizen and a member of parliament is that:

"....your statements about Muslims and their beliefs, as expressed in your film Fitna and elsewhere, would threaten community harmony and therefore public security in the UK."

So it is now official. If you express views that are threatening to community harmony in the UK then the UK government will prevent you from entering the UK. Think about this for a moment. If a Canadian Wiccan warlock expresses the view on Oprah that the whole British Royal Family is under an inter-generational spell of secular materialist personal wealth aggregation which it is secretly propagating and promoting to the people through clever gamesmanship with the British media, and this expression outrages Royal loyalists and the Sun newspaper, then it is now fine for the UK government to prevent this warlock from entering the UK . The Secretary would find grounds that his entry "would threaten community harmony" in the UK because bovver boy Cockney lynch mobs would riot at the offence given to their Queen. What if a Czech English language pop group had say a big rap hit loudly declaring that all women were whores who craved a good rogering whether they knew it or not? When hundreds of women then picketed Westminster calling for the members of the band to be castrated, would this threat to community harmony allow the UK government to decline permission for the band to tour the UK?

What's happening to freedom and free speech with these developments? Which do you think is more important article 19 or regulation 19?

Here's article 19 of the UNESCO Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers".

Whatever you might quite legitimately think about Geert Wilder's politics and his film, how can you ban him from entering the UK on the grounds he might create disharmonies, if you believe in free speech?

I'm an Australian. I've lived and worked in the UK. I've expressed views about poms in pubs whilst there that any self respecting Brit should rightly have interpreted as promoting community disharmony in the UK. True to my stereotype, I've publicly uttered wilfully provocative opinions such as that all poms are a shallow bunch of trumped up pansies who are over susceptible to mawkish sentimentality and who always crack under the superficial pressure of the spectacular mood swings of the mob. Under this British Secretary of State's criteria all Australians like me who are minded to express such disharmonious views, are to be banned from entering the UK to reduce violence in their pubs. Maybe that's what the poms want. Fine. Just don't keep carrying on with all that self-righteous pretentious mush about Britain as a defender of human freedoms. Britain is now a social democratic dictatorship whose citizens are subjected to a collectivist tyranny of the majority.

I've watched the film Fitna on the web, courtesy of the marvellous British website Samizdata . Hey, the film doesn't pull its rhetorical punches, but it is only rhetoric after all. He's not advocating violence. Sure he deliberately quotes Muslin clerics and the words of the holy Koran in ways that many people would see as diminishing Islam for those with western perceptions. I'm sure some Muslims find this offensive. But so what? Some Brits find it offensive that I say they are mostly a bunch of sclerotic partially brain washed wankers who have betrayed democracy and freedom by enabling bureaucrats and moral scolds with megaphones to regulate and scrutinise their every action and allow them to pass official judgement on their very thoughts. Do my unharmonious and confronting views about miserable pommies warrant the UK government curtailing my indiscreet and impolitic speech by preventing me from entering the UK for fear of the pub brawls I might provoke?

Those bloody hypocritical pommy bastards. If you've ever been in an overcrowded urban pub in Britain you'll know what socially unharmonious and hostile places they can be. They are full of racists, bigots, chauvinists, royalists, republicans, atheists, Wickhamists, papists, traitors, Jacobites, pompous arses and alarmists of all stripes. And all of them are under the adverse influence of excess alcohol, speed or dope. Since when did it become a matter of community harmony to prevent a foreign parliamentarian from entering the UK because he might express views hostile to Islam in a debating chamber? Why aren't his potential expressions of unharmonious views to be treated with the same indifference or tolerance as all the other millions of offensive and hostile remarks made every day in all human societies. To the extent that it is clearly anticipated that British Muslims will over-react to the expression of his views hostile to Islam, then isn't it a matter for the British government to show its commitment to human freedom and protect his right to free speech under article 19? Surely if offended people threaten violence against a person for expressing offensive views, then if Britain wants to assert its support of human freedom and free speech, it is those who threaten the violence who should be sanctioned, not those who merely give offence.

The British once understood this. They oft times led the world in defining such fundamental freedoms. They bequeathed to our generation the free expressions of Sir Thomas More, Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, John Locke, David Hume, JS Mill, Bertram Russell and Winston Churchill . But it seems they no longer get it at all. The world is a poorer and scarier place.

09 February 2009

Old failures recalled: the New Deal

The New Deal didn't work. Why are we repeating it?

Here is a 270 word book review I wrote on Amity Shlaes' provocative recent work on the Great Depression, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression (Harper Perennial 2008). I understand that Paul Krugman of the New York Times has got his knickers in a knot about this book, which suggests it might have even more to recommend it than I originally thought. ... . .
The Forgotten Man
by Amity Shlaes
This is an unexpectedly refreshing account of the Great Depression in the USA. Although this time is still just within living memory for some, this is a most topical refresher on this destructive and instructive era. It is not so much a history, as an interconnecting narrative of personal misadventures and muddles of both the great and the good.

Its title is not a reference to any particular person, as you can be forgiven for assuming. It is rather a reference to the recurring theme of “the forgotten man” from the time. This seductive label was variously appropriated and politically exploited by a series of genuine victims and propagandists to elicit sympathy or favour, during the long bleak decade that led into war.

The book is not without stylistic flaws, but it is an invigorating read nonetheless. Not the least because it confronts us with some stark challenges to the conventional received wisdom about the New Deal’s efficacy in dealing with the Depression. It is not a polemic and it does not explicitly assert a central economic thesis, but it has understandably generated some political controversy. It lets its series of personal histories, interspersed with a light smattering of selected economic statistics; draw you to your own conclusions, and they could be counter-intuitive for some reflexive Keynesians.

But you can just be enthralled at meeting Andrew Mellon, Rexford Tugwell, Father Devine, Samuel Insull and Wendall Wilkie and become outraged at the treatment meted out to Brooklyn’s Schechter brothers. And looming over it all, but given the scantest of treatments, is the other patron saint of modern economic stimulus, Franklin Roosevelt.